"[MESSAGE: I CARE.]"
Spooked by Pat Buchanan's strength in the New Hampshire polls, George Bush stumbled through January feebly intoning his compassion for the plight of recessionwrecked Americans. In one notably blah speech, he accidently began reading the above stage direction.
[Message: read your speeches before hand.]
But now the slumbering domestic-policy beast has awakened. Last week, in Cleveland, Bush unveiled his plan for revamping the nation's beleaguered health care system. For his efforts he was greeted by a resounding chorus of "boos," some emanating from his own party.
The Bush plan would give poor families vouchers redeemable for up to $3750 of medical insurance and provide tax credits for families that purchase coverage if their annual income is under $80,000. In addition, Bush would ban "cream-skimming," she peculiarly named practice which enables insurers to deny coverage to high-risk clients.
What's this? Bush want to expand health coverage to cover the uninsured? And he's going to force those big bad insurance companies to stop shafting people with serious health problems? Is this George Bush or George McGovern?
Don't believe the hype. The Bush plan is an incomplete, inefficient proposal that would only exacerbate America's health care woes. What seems like a good liberal plan is actually a prescription for ruin.
NO ONE LIKES our current health care system: it costs too much to provide too little care for too few. As a nation we spent $666 billion on health care last year, a whopping 14 percent of our gross national product. And 35 million Americans have no health insurance whatsoever.
Bush says his plan would cost $100 billion over the next five years--most of that money going straight into the hands of insurance companies reaping huge windfalls from the additional clients made possible by the voucher plan. Where's the cash coming from, George? "We'll figure that out," says the President.
Who cares about costs? Can we put a price on good health? We better before our economy goes into intensive care. The current rate of health care costs is "threatening to consume an impossible proportion of the gross domestic product." That's not a Bush critic talking. Those are the words of the President's own budget director, Richard Darman.
Bush criticizes Democratic plans as "socialized medicine." Although that phrase does sound vaguely pernicious, the only way to contain costs is for the government either to set spending limits or dictate the terms under which private plans would compete.
This requires either a "pay-or-play" scheme, forcing businesses to provide coverage for their workers or to pay into a government fund of the otherwise uninsure, or a Canadian style national health insurance system in which the government pays nearly all health costs. Democratic presidential candidates Bill Clinton and Paul Tongs favor the first approach. Jerry Brown and Bob Kerrey supports the second. (Tom Harkin is still on the fence).
Containing costs requires higher taxes. But don't be fooled--we already pay health "taxes"--we just pay them to private insurers instead of the government. If the government were actively employed to hold down costs, we'd send a bigger slice of our paychecks to Washington, but we'd get back more in return by writing smaller checks--or no checks at all--to insurers.
The President claims that his plan "insures choice"--an uncontroversial goal. But the Bush plan actually works to limit choice by encouraging the use of "managed care" and health maintenance organizations (HMOs) which hold down costs by restricting their client's choice of doctor and hospital--and often limit doctors' options as well.
What's the best way to guarantee choice? The President's nemesis, "socialized medicine." In Canada, anyone can walk into any doctor's office or any hospital. Not so here.